Plebiscite campaign ahead
Gender parity education called crucial to worthwhile vote

The price of equality:
Current number of MLAs: 11
Number under gender parity: 20 or 22
Current cost per MLA: $200,000
Additional annual cost of gender parity: $1.8 - $2.2 million

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 03/97) - Proponents of gender parity in Nunavut are planning information campaigns in the lead-up to a plebiscite on the issue.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) president Jose Kusugak broke an impasse on the issue at the recent Nunavut leaders summit by making an eleventh-hour compromise to hold a public vote.

Gender parity is the NIC recommendation that each riding in the new Nunavut government be composed of two MLAs - one man, one woman.

The day before making the compromise, Kusugak and the NIC spoke against a Nunavut-wide vote. A plebiscite would surely fail because of long-standing prejudices against women, Kusugak said.

But in agreeing to the plebiscite, later, he said it would be worth only as much as current public education on the issue.

"If we put out a plebiscite on the issue right now, I really feel, with the ignorance of gender parity, it would fail," said Kusugak in a press conference after the two-day conference.

The NWT Status of Women Council echoed that conclusion in a Feb. 26 press release. President Rita Arey said systemic barriers are to blame for the fact that only two of 24 territorial MLAs are women.

The barriers, she said, include outdated perceptions of women's role in society and a lack of affordable child care, money and connections to "the informal power structures by which candidates are chosen and supported through the election process."

Evidence that not every prominent Northern woman is on side with the council is easy to find, however.

Municipal and Community Affairs Minister Manitok Thompson made it clear at the summit that she is strongly opposed to the concept. Thompson said she wanted the right to run against men in an election.

In a phone interview Thursday, Arey said the Status of Women's council will be launching an information campaign to educate Nunavut voters about the barriers to political success.

"Based on the media coverage we've seen, there's a lot of misconceptions, a lack of understanding, about what gender parity means," said Arey.

Though the campaign is still in the planning stages, Arey said the council will likely be raising public awareness of the issue through local media and distribution of informational pamphlets.

"I had a conference call with board on Tuesday," said Arey. "The council will be submitting their ideas, and have another conference call to decide when we will be starting our campaign."

NIC, a proponent of gender parity, stated in a press release shortly after the summit it will be "active in supplying relevant information to the public about the topic."